Archive for the ‘Measurement’ category

The Eleven Percent Solution

September 29, 2011

It seems appropriate, on this last day of the major league baseball season, to ponder the difference between success and failure, two terms that get thrown around a lot in sports and business.

The New York Yankees are having a successful season so far.  They are likely to end up winning 98 baseball games this year if they hold on to the lead they have right now.  They lost 64 games.  If you think about it, that’s a lot of games to lose.

The Cleveland Indians will not be in the playoffs and I suspect some of their fans would not consider their season successful.  They won 80 games so far, and lost 81.  Even Steven…

What’s interesting about that to me is that the difference in wins between the Yankees and the Indians is a mere 18 more games won by the Yankees.  Over the course of 162 games and six grueling months, that amounts to eleven percent more games won by a “successful” team over a “failure.”  Not a lot.


Coincidentally, I was also at a panel discussion last night about innovation.  One of the questions from the audience was “do you celebrate failure?”  Good question!   I was a bit surprised by the answer, which was pretty much “no we don’t.”   I thought perhaps the speaker would wax eloquently about how important it was to coddle your team and accept interim defeats.  But no!    I think the gist of the response was that, although you have to learn from mistakes and continually correct your course, just because you’re innovating doesn’t mean you have to expect, tolerate, or celebrate failure.

So here are my questions:

  1. Do you think the Cleveland Indians are popping champagne tonight?
  2. Do you think the Yankees high-fived each other in the clubhouse after one of their 64 losses?
  3. Does you think that the most successful sports teams get angry when they lose and use it as motivation to go out the next day and kick some butt?
  4. Does your team or organization hate to lose?
  5. Do you think that anyone on your team believes that an 11% improvement in their results, however they are measured, would mean the difference between success and failure?

Answer key:

  1. no
  2. no
  3. yes
  4. you tell me
  5. If not, I think the Indians are looking for a backup catcher…

Is Everybody Happy??

September 9, 2011

I am not a huge believer in polls.  I think that regardless of statistical sampling size and other factors, the way that questions are ordered, worded and who you ask still affects the outcome in ways that belie objectivity.

Be that as it may, has anyone seen the latest Gallup Healthways Well Being index as it relates to “employee engagement?”  Interesting stuff!

Allow me to summarize.  The Gallupians use three categories to segment employees:  engaged (in their companies), not engaged, and actively disengaged.  It may surprise no one to hear that 30 percent of American workers are engaged in their work, 51 percent are not engaged, and 19 percent are actively disengaged.   A sad state of affairs indeed.


What can you do about this??

I would suggest two things:

1)   it turns out that many economic sleuths are actually willing to admit that there’s a relationship between engaged workers and your company’s bottom line.  Personally, I don’t feel like anyone should even have to make that case, but next time you bump into your CFO in the elevator, ask her if she believes that to be the case.  If not, dust up your resume.
2)   there was an editorial in the New York Times this past week  that referenced the Gallup engagement survey but also proclaimed to find a root cause relationship that will change your workers’ sense of engagement for the better.  Get this!   As a manager, you should acknowledge and praise incremental progress in your team’s work.  That’s what keeps them engaged!  Brilliant!  It gets better.  When 669 managers were asked to rank 5 motivators, 95 percent of them ranked “supporting progress” dead last.

Are we happy now?

Carbon footprint

August 25, 2011

When I was a kid and disputes were escalating among siblings, your “ace in the hole” often was, “I’m telling mom” or “I’m telling dad.”  You knew you ran the risk of being called a tattler or escalating things further, so you tended to only play that card in desperate times.

Fast forward a few years…

I always thought that CC in an email stood for “courtesy copy.”  According to the search I just conducted, it stands for “carbon copy” and is defined as:

Carbon Copy, it is for those that are not part of the main email but are just being informed of it

But that’s not what it’s used for in many organizations, is it???  It’s used to tell mom.


I have a theory that I bet some really smart developer with access to an organization’s MS-Exchange data store could prove or disprove.  I submit that the level of bureaucracy in an organization can be measured by counting the number of emails that everyone cc’s their boss on in comparison with the total number of emails they send.   The higher the number, the more you have to tell mom to get a co-worker, peer or someone else who doesn’t “report to you” to actually take action and help you when there’s nothing in it for them.

It’s a sad state of affairs when two co-workers who allegedly work for the same organization and should have the same goals won’t collaborate unless it’s under the watchful eye of one of their bosses.

Why don’t you take a moment and ask what your “carbon footprint” is?  If it’s more than 5 to 10 percent, maybe it’s time to reduce your emissions…

Virtue and Virtual

July 28, 2011


A long time ago, in a company far, far away, I was doing an employee’s annual review.   He was a pretty good worker.  Reasonably dedicated.  Got along with his co-workers.  Knew enough to do his job.

So I am in the midst of his review, and he “reminds” me that he’s in early every day.  And he was!  Our start time was 8 AM, and he was in by 7 almost every day.  Good for him!  Except…

  1. the employee parking lot tended to get crowded by around 7:45, so he liked to get in early and get the best spot available.
  2. After he got to his desk at 7 AM, he would go to the cafeteria, get coffee and a muffin, and read the local paper at his desk til a little before 8.

How do I know this?  Because every once in a while I needed to be in early as well, and I would walk past his cubicle and see him reading the paper and drinking coffee.  I had no problem with this whatsoever; it was his time to do with as he saw fit.  As long as he started work by 8, no problem.

Until he brought it up in his review as if it should somehow positively influence his scores and/or merit increase.


My point is that a lot of managers these days are sweating their virtual (and perhaps not virtuous!) workers.  What are my workers doing?  Are they really putting in a full day?  How can I make sure they aren’t taking advantage of this rather honor system-based approach to getting work done?? 

Well you know what?  Not much has changed.  If someone is dedicated to their work and feels a certain responsibility to give a fair day’s effort for a fair day’s pay, they will do it at their desk, at home, or in Cancun.  (OK, maybe not Cancun…)   And the opposite is equally true.

I am pretty confident this is the case.  Because I go on a golf trip every year with several folks who own their own companies.   And they work quite a bit while they are “on vacation.”  Because they feel accountable for their customers, their revenue, and the reputation and responsiveness of the business.

So before you overreact to “where” your team is, why not spend some time contemplating “who” your team is…??

Common Cents

April 22, 2011

Two years ago, I consolidated all my 401k and retirement accounts into a single account so I could watch it not grow more easily.  That included transferring the money I had in a Charles Schwab account.   The following month, I got a statement from Schwab that said the balance in the account was one cent.  That’s right.  $00.01.  I can only assume that some instantaneous computer-driven interest-calculating program granted me a “dividend” at the very moment I took out all my money.  So I did what most self-respecting, lazy procrastinators would do – I ignored the statement and threw it out.

I have continued to receive statements every month showing my balance of one cent.  To be honest, after 24 months, you’d think it would have grown to two cents, but such is the state of our economy I suppose.

But wait…

Last week, I got a letter from Schwab informing me that the State of Michigan requires them to send me paperwork that I have to fill out and return, indicating that I wish to keep the account open.  If I do not respond by May 11, they will turn over the “assets” of the account to the “unclaimed property department of the State of Michigan.”  As hard as any of this is to fathom, I am not making it up.

As much as I wanted to do nothing (see self-characterization in paragraph 1) guilt got the better of me and I called Schwab, asked the nice person who answered to close the account, and I also let them keep the penny…


So here’s the thing.  Between all the people and computers in the state of Michigan AND at Charles Schwab, don’t you think someone would have recognized the ridiculousness of the situation and put a stop to it, if for no other reason than doing some simple arithmetic around spending 40 cents every month to send me a letter to tell me I still had a penny in an account I had liquidated?  But no one did.  And here’s why…

Because it’s not their money.

As a leader in a small, mid-sized, or God forbid large organization, are you still capable of thinking about expenditures as if it were your money?  Do the teams you lead think that way?

If you don’t or they don’t, maybe you should Talk to Chuck…

The Matrix

May 20, 2010

Thanks to some colleagues that, to be honest, are just plain smarter than me, I am becoming a fan of matrices, specifically two by two arrays better known as quadrants.  You know, like Gartner’s “magic quadrant” where everyone wants to be in the upper right hand corner at the happening intersection of The Ability to Execute Boulevard and Visionary Avenue.  Quadrants just seem to be a handy way of partitioning collections of objects into meaningful categories.  I think the other thing about quadrants that seems intuitive are the percentages and how easy they are to calculate and act upon.

For example, in high school, I had a bad haircut and was a bad dresser.  The quadrant for that looks like this:


Intuitively, we can see that my chances of getting a date for the prom were 25% assuming I would have needed a good haircut AND some style.   Sadly, this was empirically proven.

But that’s not my point…

Consider instead the relationship between effort and recognition, seen from your employees’ perspective.  What if your quadrant has these four elements:

Minimal Effort/No Credit
Effort/No Credit
Minimal Effort/Credit

Three of these four outcomes, as a leader, are not what you want.  You certainly don’t want your teams to do the minimum just to get by, right?  But if you don’t make damn certain they get recognition or credit when they DO expend the effort you want, you solved the equation for them!  They stand a one in four chance of a positive outcome.  And even if they’re not math majors, they can figure this one out.

You can mock this and contend its trivial but tell me you’ve never spent time in a large, bureaucratic organization where you can’t figure out why everyone seems so unmotivated.  Do the math, Neo…



    April 23, 2010

    I believe, with all my heart, that if you have a three step process, and you complete steps one and two rigorously and with great diligence, sometimes you get to step three.  That probably sums up the way I feel about “methodologies” – another misused and misunderstood crutch in the execution of work.

    So I read with some interest a brief article in PM Network magazine by Jesse Fewell, essentially titled “Methodology doesn’t matter.”  You can read the gist of it here.   The article itself didn’t quite go as far as the title, which was a little disappointing, but I think his contention was that teamwork and intuition can trump blindly following steps in a process.  To me,  a bit of a “duh” moment, but I was impressed that he said it, in any fashion, right in a Project Management magazine.  Good for you, Jesse!


    So I thought I would add another observation or two that are a bit closer to the “blasphemy” that Jesse was gently creeping toward:

    1. Methodologies are security blankets for weak leaders who choose process over outcomes.
    2. Outcomes are NOT meeting dates or budgets.  If you believe that meeting a pre-defined budget is an outcome, you are an accountant, not a leader.
    3. Target completion dates are like the crosshairs on a high-powered rifle.  They help you aim, but they don’t load the ammo, pull the trigger, track and skin the prey, or put it on the hood of your pickup truck (after using 9,147 sports analogies, I thought I should use at least one that my good friends in Michigan could relate to…)

    Here’s how Jesse ended the article:  “No methodology by itself will have all the answers.  Project managers are looked upon to steer the ship through the roughest waters – which means knowing where you are, where you’re going and the best maneuvers to keep from sinking.”

    Aye, aye, Captain Jesse!  Well done!

    I think I need an alignment

    April 15, 2010

    I am pretty confident that if any of us saw Osama Bin Laden walking down the street, we’d do our best to immediately drop everything we’re doing, and take him down.  No questions asked; no incentives needed.  And I also suspect that, at the hero’s receptions later, we’d say, as most real heroes do, that they didn’t do anything anyone else wouldn’t do if they found themselves in the same situation.  And yet, the reward right now for information leading to the capture of Osama is 25 million bucks and I understand the State Department is actually kicking around the idea of doubling it to fifty.  

    I have been struggling for quite some time to reconcile the results of studies I often see that say employees are more motivated by recognition than they are by compensation.  I struggle with this because most employees that I talk to would really like to make more money, or at least have the opportunity to do so.

    And I think many companies and their leadership must struggle with this as well, based on the compensation and recognition systems that they put in place.  In fact, I think a new term, “compognition” might be the best way to label their confused strategy.  Because they confuse intrinsic behaviors with the desire to make more money, and then make it worse by misaligning the rewards.


    Imagine this:

    • a company or manager notices someone working extra hours to learn a new technology or skill.  The company does not make any more money, at least in the short run, from this intrinsically good behavior that the manager not only wishes to reward, but wishes others would emulate.  So she decides to give the employee a $50 gift certificate to Best Buy, which she leaves in his cubicle with a nice note.
    • a company or manager demands that a team work overtime to meet a deadline.  The company stands to make a $25,000 incentive bonus if the project is delivered on time.  The team works really hard, including long hours and weekends.  They make the deadline.  The company throws them a pizza party and invites the rest of the department to it.
    • a company or manager institutes a new program to get their more senior employees to pursue new business.  They offer a 0.5% “commission” to these selected employees, who did not volunteer for the role; they were just told that this was part of their responsibilities.  One of the employees manages, through her network, to close a $150,000 deal.  She receives a check for $750.00.

    In all three cases, I would suggest there is serious misalignment between compensation and recognition.  In the first example, although a nice gesture, I think a more public recognition of the efforts, quite possibly with no monetary reward, would be far more appropriate.  Praise in public, criticize in private.  And don’t attach a dollar value to intrinsic behavior.

    In the second and third examples, the reverse is true.  The employees are well aware, in both cases, of the value of their efforts to the company.  If you, as a manager, cannot find an effective way to share that additional revenue with the team or employee primarily responsible for that financial gain, you assign little or no value to something that is not intrinsic behavior.   Congrats – you are officially well on your way to a de-motivated and resentful staff.

    Anyone got any “compognition” stories they’d like to share?

    Until further notice, we are all the same

    March 22, 2010

    There are two interesting things about the New York Yankees. The first is that most people who care even just the tiniest bit about baseball either love them or hate them. They bring out passion in fans. The second is that they are committed to winning, as an organization, and they are willing to do just about anything to accomplish that. And they hold their leadership accountable for that.


    But here’s another tidbit that I find interesting, too. The total 2009 payroll for their players was $208 million dollars. And the difference between their highest paid player, Alex Rodriguez, and their lowest paid player, Ramiro Pena, was about 32.5 million dollars. In other words, Alex got 33M and Ramiro got 400k.

    Check it our here

    And, in spite of overwhelmingly different compensation packages for players who essentially all do the same thing, they are expected, at least on the field, to behave as teammates and play together to win.

    Now think about your team and the messages your organization sends out about expectations, compensation and “fairness.” Here’s a sampling I’ve heard over the years:

    • · Annual pay increases this year will range from 3-5 %, based on the performance review conducted by your manager and approval by people who almost never work directly with you or see the precise results of your efforts (ok, I added that last part, but you can’t tell me that many organizations would at least get “honesty points” if they actually said that…)
    • · Everyone is expected to work 40 hours per week and account for their time on daily timesheets.
    • · Everyone will sit in equal sized offices/cubicles/desks and will be issued the exact same equipment regardless of what they actually need to get their work done.

    All this is done under the guise of “fairness.” And in some respects, it works. If you treat everyone the same, it’s hard for anyone to complain about inequities.

    But think about the other messages this approach might send:

    • · Don’t try to stand out. It won’t be worth your while.
    • · See if you can figure out how to do the minimum to get by.
    • · Make sure you account for all your time, regardless of what you were actually doing.
    • · Do whatever you think will please your manager – he or she will be the deciding factor in whether you get a 3% increase, or 5%.

    Here’s the last thing to consider. The reason it’s a little easier for the Yankees to justify paying one team member almost 100 times as much as another is they have the statistics to back it up. Home runs, defense, RBI’s, etc.

    So is your compensation “strategy” a consequence of your inability or unwillingness to measure real results, or the other way around?

    But it’s MY digital landfill!

    February 19, 2010

    I remember getting my first office PC.  It had, and I am not making this up, a 40 megabyte hard drive.  Probably around 1993.  And I thought to myself, I can’t imagine ever filling that up.  That’s a lot of space!  And in some respects, it was.  But we outgrew it, didn’t we?   And then we outgrew it again.  And again, and again, and again.  And now, we make up words for all that vast space that takes up no physical room – terabytes, gigabytes, mongobytes.  It’s SO important to quantify all that space.

    Imagine you walked past one of your employees’ desks [let’s call him Jerry] and it was filled from floor to ceiling with old newspapers, five copies of the same magazine – same issue, books, notepads, old scraps of paper, clipboards, binders!    At first, being the tolerant manager that you are, you would assume that each worker has their own method of organization and that this seemingly disastrous pile of randomness and duplication was really just a unique filing system.  Then, as time went by, doubt would creep in, because it’s just too hard to imagine.  So you decide to test your theory and ask Jerry to find a memo that you knew was in the pile, because you looked after he left and ‘stacked the deck’ as it were.  He says, “I’ll get back to you” and starts moving papers and piles around.  You check back in 3 hours, and he’s still at it…

    You’d have two reactions, wouldn’t you?

    1. you’d be appalled that you let this go on as long as you did, and you’d vow to stop it immediately
    2. you’d wonder how much productivity had been lost over the past several years due to this mind-boggling inefficiency

    Why?  Because you can see the piles of paper…

    Now imagine that happening every day on your laptops, desktops, file servers, databases and collaboration platforms.  No big deal, right?  It’s a lot of space, and a lot of stuff, but it’s in tiny little hard drives and disk arrays that don’t take up any “real” space.  So there’s really no problem, is there?

    I realize you probably believe you have bigger, more pressing problems to tackle than your employees’ digital landfills.  But if you’re up for an experiment and you don’t mind killing a tree or two, print the contents of one of your employees’ hard drives and stack the papers on their desk.  Then ask them to find something.  It wouldn’t surprise me if you suddenly think Jerry is the most organized person in the company…

    Just because it’s a tough problem to take on doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least start to evangelize organization, document management, and archiving.  Productivity-wise, what you can’t see CAN hurt you…



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